In this interview with IMOLEAYO OYEDEYI, the National Chairman of the National Conscience Party (NCP), Dr Yunusa Tanko, speaks on the kind of leadership that can address Nigeria’s socio-economic and security challenges as well as the key qualities Nigerians should look out for when deciding who to vote in as their next president in 2023.
Considering the way Nigeria has fared under the leadership of elderly presidents, do you think it is time Nigerians considered a young president?
Well, I have always been an apostle of that, but the younger generations too have been given mantles of leadership and failed the people. We have had quite a number of them occupying leadership positions in each state of the country, but they did not do well. One way or the other, maybe we should have a combination of the two sets of people. But they have to be people who have the capacity, wherewithal and interest of the people at heart. If you have an old person, but who is still agile and capable, he or she can rule the country. But at the same time, you can also have a young person, but with the wisdom of an old person for the position, not a young person, with the mind of a young person that will not be able to know what to do at every point when given the mantle of leadership.
So as I said, we can have a mixture of both the old and the young. But what is most important in leadership is the charisma, the capacity, usefulness and ability to unite this country and take it to a greater height. I think these should be our cardinal points when considering who to vote for in 2023.
But considering the way Nigeria has been polarised across religious and ethnic lines amid consistently socio-economic crises and worsening security challenges, what kind of leader do you think will be fitting for the country?
Well, there are four issues that will play key parts in the upcoming elections in 2023. One is the issue of democracy; the next is the issue of ethnicity and religion, while the last will be capacity. These are key issues. So when you have a leader who has these qualities including empathy and much interest in uniting this country, I think such a person should be allowed, not someone that will get in the government and start viewing issues only from his own ethnic, clannish and religion perspectives without consideration for other people’s viewpoints and interests, but someone that will cut his cabinets across the entire country, make appointments based on merits and show love to the entirety of Nigerians whether Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba or from any other ethnic group. That is the kind of person we are looking for. And once this kind of leadership is being shown, people will place themselves along that line, knowing full well that everybody is one. And that is what we are really looking out for, because we don’t want someone that will come in and further divide the country. We don’t want someone that will further divide and rule this country, saying this one is my person and that one is not my person. Once an election is being conducted, everybody becomes the subject of the elected president. That is how leadership is enshrined in any part of the world.
But do you think it is possible for a president to be fair to every ethnic group in the country?
Of course, it is possible. We have seen that before in this country, both during the military rule and the civilian rule. I can boldly say that the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was one person that was not selective or considered where people came from before giving them appointments as long as they were competent, tested and found to be willing to do the right thing for the interest of the people. During the military era, we had people like Muritala Mohammed and the rest of them. So it is very possible. Besides, we have people who are willing to rule this country with love and genuine care for others irrespective of where they are and hail from. Already, we have some of them in government. For instance in Kano State, we have appointed people from the South-East. That is how leadership is being done, so that everybody can feel the ambience of love and have a sense of belonging.
But with the way corruption has saturated Nigerian politics coupled with the lopsided political structure of the country, do you think a man of integrity can emerge as the president of the country and even be able to deliver results?
Yes, it is possible. But the fact still remains that at the moment in the country, the people are tired as they have been deceived and burgled. So they are now looking for someone that can take them out of the woods, someone that will love them, show empathy and believe that the problem on ground is not about the North and the South, but about delivering the dividends of democracy and good governance, which include provision of stable electricity, security, employment opportunities, food security, among other economic indices.
Once all of these things are in place, Nigerians will have trust in the leadership in the country. And with what the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is trying to emplace, anyone with integrity will be able to rule the country. It is now left for the people to come out en masse and even choose the candidate by themselves, not some people bring up someone and say this is the person we want you to vote for. So the people from the grass roots should be able to bring up the candidate of their choice. That is how democracy is being played anywhere in the world. The people are supposed to be the ones that will say, for instance, this is Ariyo, we have watched him for years and seen that he is competent, so we want him to go and represent us. Such way, the candidate will not even spend much as it is the people that collectively picked him that will finance his campaign. Such way, he will be answerable to the people, not a set of godfathers.
Still speaking on integrity, we all know those who have the capacity for leadership in our different villages, local governments and states. So we are supposed to be the one to bring them out and vote for them. But we are not seeing that in Nigeria because the people have been neglected and that is why they are not acting the way they should be doing. But the truth is you will always have problems when you do not participate in the process and just allow certain people to take over your state. And that is what is happening now in Nigeria. We have allowed people that do not even care about the country or its people to rule us. We have allowed charlatans to take over our political parties and dictate the tune of events. So the people really need to come out and take their rightful places in the political parties and in the leadership rank of the country. For instance, for an election that had 83 million registered voters, only 23 million came out to vote. Where are the remaining 60 million registered voters? So these are issues we need to look into.
But can we say the people’s low participation in the electoral process is symptomatic of their loss of interest in the governance of the country?
Yes, the people have lost interest in governance, because of the disappointment they have got from their leaders. But then, what is most important is for good people to get into the leadership of the country, because not participating in the country’s politics is like giving room for charlatans to rule us, leaving the intelligent people for the unintelligent ones to emerge as leaders. So when this happens, who do you blame?
But considering the expensive nature of electioneering and politics in Nigeria, do you think it will be easy for a competent and incorruptible person to emerge as the country’s president?
As I said earlier, the people should be allowed to choose the person that will lead them. And once this is done, the same people will now have to rally round the person, vote and protect their votes. But if we continue to allow people who have no business in governance to take over our states, we will have no one, but ourselves to blame. That is the truth.
Juxtaposing this with the issue of the direct primaries that has divided the governors and the lawmakers, what do you have to say?
Let me tell you the truth, the National Assembly did not pass the bill because of the interest of the people. It just happens that the people will be benefiing from it. The lawmakers did it because of their personal interest as regards the issue of being denied tickets by either the political parties, their godfathers or those who can bribe the members of the political parties. So they thought it wise that with a direct primary, they have returned the power back to the people, which will then make it easy for them to go back, contest elections at the grassroots and ask the people to vote for them. But in another way, the strategy is advantageous to the people, because its implication is that the power to pick a candidate for a political party has been returned to the people. So if the president signs it into law, it will help the political parties, the electorate and the country itself to have an election before an election. Yes, I agree that much money is needed to finance the primaries, but this money can come from the political parties, because every card-carrying member of a political party must pay his or her monthly dues. And the money generated can be used for the exercise. The only reason the political parties will not be able to finance the exercise is if their members did not pay their dues. But if the dues are paid, I believe the parties will be able to hold the exercise without any issue.
But as someone who has once contested for the president’s position in this country and lost, why is it that it has been very hard for any other political party to wrest power from either the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) at the top level?
It has been so, because the system has been skewed in the interest of those in power. Let me start from my findings. A majority of our commissioners in the country belong to a political party and then the chairman of INEC is being appointed by the incumbent president. Moreso, the Electoral Act itself has some lacunas, such that when someone wins an election today, he or she can wake up tomorrow morning and change his or her political party and yet retain the seat.
We won Ekiti State, but the guy turned back and joined the PDP before we knew what was happening. At present, there are no laws in the Act that punishes a person who cross-carpeted from one party to the other. And that is why the majority of other political parties can’t win an election in the country. Even our election is heavily monetized, such that nobody is checkmating the use of money in our political system. This has become a problem. Moreso, the security challenges too are huge and then the police and other security agencies are all being used as weapons for the incumbent administration to win re-election either for it or the president. These are some of the challenges other political parties are facing. Once they are resolved, I am very sure that we will see a candidate from other political parties winning key elections in the country.
As someone who has once served as the secretary of a coalition formed by a group of political parties in the country, will you say the reasons you have listed above are what have prevented the merger from defeating an incumbent administration in this country?
Well, over the years, we have been experimenting with the option of collaboration and merging. But I think maybe this year or next year, we will be able to reach a crescendo, but the fact still remains that we need to come together again and pull strengths together to be able to defeat the incumbent. This is what we are trying to do by God’s grace, because each of the political parties is weak in the area of finances needed to win elections.
But considering the way the PDP and the APC have fared over the years, do you think Nigerians will still be able to trust any of the two parties with their mandates come 2023?
No, I don’t think the people will be willing. But the only thing is that we at the other side have to really come out and up our game, so that we can give the people a credible alternative. This is because it is the lack of a quality alternative that is still making Nigerians talk about either the PDP or the APC. Everyone knows that the two parties are one of the same. But if there are no viable alternatives come 2023, Nigerians will have no other choice but to go with any of them.
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